EDITORIAL: Part of the solution or part of the problem?

Mar. 28, 2014 @ 05:00 AM

In any community, news of an officer-involved shooting is bound to touch off a torrent of public opinion.

And in Sanford, reaction was immediate and polarized to reports of such an incident this week — in which one Sanford Police officer and the two suspects were injured in an exchange of gunfire, according to authorities. Police responded to yet another shooting Wednesday, finding a man dead from a gunshot wound to the face.

A picture of one of the teens in the first case, in law enforcement custody, was posted to The Herald’s Facebook page, where discussion rapidly devolved into profanity and incivility. But some truth could be gleaned from the morass of responses.

Look no further than the comment thread in question to see how divisive the topic of race remains. Fear drives the debate — some afraid of being a victim, some afraid of being unjustly accused, and some fearing both.

It’s hard to disagree with one poster, who wrote, “ … It’s somebody’s family, and there really isn’t need to go back and forth because nobody wins.”

Another made a succinct, and accurate, observation: “Sanford needs help.”

Sadly, violence has become much too common in our relatively “small town,” which at least one Facebook respondent noted is not so small as it once was. Although the wounded officer should recover, multiple shootings within the last year have ended lives. So for Sanford to sort out this growing issue — the stakes couldn’t be higher.

And commenters had several ideas for increasing safety — like increased enforcement and stiffer penalties for criminals, more outlets and opportunities for youth. Our political and law enforcement leaders would do well to prioritize these wider contributing factors, and they have in some ways. The city of Sanford, for instance, has embarked on bond projects that will hopefully expand recreational options for youth and families alike.

But to have any hope of curtailing the violence, we as a community must present a united front. We have a duty as citizens to be vigilant and attentive in our homes and neighborhoods. To the extent we can, we should be proactive about our personal safety.

Most importantly, we should be mindful of the example we set for our young people. All adults, parents in particular, are role models — and as such have a stake in shaping the future.

No cure-all exists for the crime problem we are facing, but it cannot be reversed unless we each take ownership in it. As long as we refuse to be part of the solution, old or young, black or white, we are part of the problem.